This extremely well-executed and beautifully coloured manuscript map depicts Badajoz, Spain and its defensive works in the immediate run up to the Siege of Badajoz (1812), one of the bloodiest engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, and a major landmark towards the liberation of Iberia from French occupation.
Badajoz, located only a few miles from the Portuguese border, occupied a key bridgehead across the Río Guadiana, and was long fought over by Spain and Portugal. In essence, it guarded the all the viable direct approaches between Lisbon and Madrid, the city vital to the military control of Iberia.
The map, which is orientated westwards, is centered on the old walled city of Badajoz, which lies on the left bank of the Río Guadiana. Elaborate Vauban-style defensive works encloses the city. Within, every major street is delineated, giving a fine impression of the layout of the city. A fortified bridge crosses the river, while Fort San Cristobal is shown guarding the valley from above the right bank. The southern approaches the city are guarded by the Pardaleras Battery, while and elaborate defensive earthworks, including the Lunette San Rocque, occupy the upland to the west of town, across a ravine, called the “Impassable Inundation”. Below the map runs an engineers’ cross-section view, running for Fort Cristobal across to the batteries on the other side of the river.
The present untitled, undated map is difficult to date. However, judging from the style of draftsmanship and the type of thick, laid paper used, it seems to have been made during the 1820s or 1830s. The quality of the draftsmanship is exceedingly high, indicative of a mapmaker with formal training in military cartography. The present map was likely adapted from contemporary manuscript sketches of the siege and, due to the nature of its even, blank margins, was likely prepared to illustrate a retrospective of the Peninsular War. The present map seems to be the basis of the map, ‘Siege of Badajoz. March and April 1812.’, which appeared as Plate 9 within George R. Gleig’s The Life of Arthur First Duke of Wellington (London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1862); however, the printed map truncates the view to exclude the far-right of the manuscript view, as well as the cross-section below. Please see link:
The Siege of Badajoz (1812): Landmark on Road to the Liberation of Iberia
During the Peninsular War (1807-14), the Iberian theatre of the Napoleonic Wars, Badajoz was unsuccessfully attacked by French forces twice, in 1808 and 1809. However, on March 10, 1811, the French Marshal Soult bribed the city’s Spanish commander into surrendering Badajoz. In May of that year, an Anglo-Portuguese force under Marshal William Beresford unsuccessfully attempted to take Badajoz, although it scored a brilliant victory against the French at nearly Albuera.
Over the next year, the Anglo-Portuguese forces (assisted by their Spanish allies), under the overall command of the Duke of Wellington, scored several great triumphs across Western Iberia. However, the French hold on Badajoz strategically threatened everything the liberators had accomplished. Simply put, Badajoz had to be taken out.
However, this was easier said than done. The French commander, Major General Armand Phillipon, who had withstood Beresford’s siege the year before, had since improved the city’s fortifications, which, as shown here, had made Badajoz exceptionally well protected. He also laid a number of explosive traps to thwart any direct British assault. Moreover, Badajoz was garrisoned by 5,000 well-trained and rested French troops.
Wellington was determined to leave noting to chance, so composed a force 27,000 strong, in an effort to overwhelm Badajoz. The present map, shows Wellington’s advance parties approaching the city for the south, namely the 4th Division, led by the Light Division, a crack scouting force led by the hard-charging General Robert Craufurd.
Wellington’s forces arrived outside of Badajoz on March 16, 1812, and immediately began pounding the city with artillery, in hopes of loosening up its defences. The first British attempt to storm the city was repulsed on March 19. On March 25, the British seized parts of the defensive works that lay to the east of the town, and used that height to intensify their artillery barrage.
On April 6, after days of pounding, the British opened up two major breaches in Badajoz’s town walls. That night, the 4th Division and the Light Division rushed into these gaps, but were stopped cold by explosive traps and fierce French resistance. The British losses were horrendous. Wellington was on the verge of calling off the siege when he heard that his 3rd Division had successfully scaled Badajoz’s walls, entering the city and sending the defenders into disarray. The French forces were soon confined to refuge in the San Vincent Bastion, in the northwest of the city (noted on the present map), but surrendered the following day.
The British had sustained 4,800 casualties, including many key officers. The troops were exhausted and enraged, and soon began looting the town and murdering its inhabitants, eventually killing 4,000 civilians. This was major stain upon Wellington and the Union Jack, but the Iron Duke and Britain’s subsequent victories ensured that this war crime was largely forgotten beyond the region. Nevertheless, the conquest of Badajoz permitted the Anglo-Allied forces to complete the liberation of Iberia by 1814.